8:55 a.m. I decided to take some time to revisit Pope Francis's -- the Apostolic Exhortation, The Joy of the Gospel: Evangelii Gaudium (November 24, 2013). You can find the entire text of The Joy of the Gospel on the Vatican website.

Also, a word about apostolic exhortations. The Catholic church has many different forms of communication, each with their own "weight." An apostolic constitution, for example, is the highest level. An example is one of my personal faves, Dei Verbum, Pope Paul VI's Dogmatic Constitution on Divine Revelation (1965) which was promulgated (formally declared, widely proclaimed) at the Second Vatican Council. An apostolic exhortation is not as solemn as an apostolic constitution or an encyclical but it is "ahead" of audiences, homilies, discourses, and other messages. There's no category yet for "tweet" but @Pontifex sure is making great use of that form of communication!

Let's start at the beginning. The truth is, we all need a word of joy. And we all need to be joy in the world. Even when it's a bad day, even when we hurt, even when we just can't squeeze out one more bit of energy. Joy can transform us. For Francis, as for all Christians, that joy is to be found in Jesus the Christ who offers us salvation which can set us "free from sin, sorrow, inner emptiness and loneliness." (1) Indeed this is Good News!

Lest we think that Francis is painting a picture of joy as all warm and fuzzy, Francis calls our attention to the many struggles of our world and of our own personal life which pose a "great danger" to the call to joy. (2)

  • consumerism
  • a complacent yet covetous heart
  • the feverish pursuit of frivolous pleasures
  • a blunted conscience

I'm particularly struck by the word "blunted." When something is blunt, it is worn-out, dull, not sharp. While I'd like to think I'm pretty sharp most of the time, the Pope is right on when he points to the fact that we can lose our edge, as it were.

Sometimes our bluntness comes from a single instance as when we make a bad choice. Think of a sharp sword striking a solid rock and ruining the edge of the sword. Making bad choices, while not good for obvious reasons, can sometimes be helpful indicators that we've lost our edge. We react poorly to someone else, We neglect a responsibility. We justify not reaching out. I always find that  "events" like these where my bluntness is writ large have the capacity to chasten me and compel me to make amends and take steps to sharpen up.

Smooth broken shellsAnd sometimes our bluntness can come from being worn-out over time. Think of how the sharp edges of broken shells and glass are made smooth over time in the ocean. We too can get worn out -- often unintentionally and without malice. We are overworked. We have dependents. We lack resources. We are sick. These too can take the edge off us and make us miss invitations all around us and within us. I certianly have been there where I am worn-out in every fiber of my being. It is a hard, hard place to be. It boggles my mind that even in this space we can be "more than", we can be called to be awake to the world around us, to participate in that "joy ever new."  And yet the possibility is always there.

Pope Francis's words can perhaps be our own in moments when we are blunted.

"Here I am once more, to renew my covenant with you. I need you. Save me once again, Lord, take me once more into your redeeming embrace." (3)

I'd love to hear from you about this idea of bluntness as well as your reflections on the beginning section of The Joy of the Gospel!